Reasons to Self-Publish – Part III

against me

This is Part III of my Reasons to Self Publish series. This series is based on a comment left on one of my blog posts as to the poster’s reasons to self publish, which I felt warranted discussion. There are all sorts of reasons to self publish, but I don’t feel these are a viable argument to that discussion.

The printing industry is the gatekeeper of content

Vanity and POD publishers were very good at creating the illusion of elitism in order to attract authors. They also excelled at telling authors they “deserve” to be published. This was their “We’re folksy and nice, and you’ll love working with us because we’re giving you what you deserve.” It’s a lovely idea, but it’s little more than sleight of hand because they failed to reveal they couldn’t get books out to market and into readers’ hands nor do they market or promote. The byproduct of this is that they unwittingly created an entitlement culture that believes they’re owed a publishing contract because they put cyber pen to cyber paper, and if they’re rejected, it’s not due to lack of a publishable book.

My fertile imagination conjures up images of secret meetings of all the publishers in smoke-filled backrooms, drinking Bourbon while conspiring to censor what gets published, and the penalty for breaking The Double-Secret Probation Code is a midnight visit from the goon squad who will blow up your company and steal errant rescue beagles.

Come on, publishing is a business, just like selling shoes or margarita mix, and they keep their doors open by selling books that appeal to a lot of readers. This allows them to stay in business. The logical “duh” moment is that they need to have a quality product, which means the best of the best are what’s on their radar.

And mind you, the publishing business is based on speculation. Publishers pour out tens of thousands of dollars before they ever realize any remuneration – and they have only their best educated guess as to whether that book will actually sell well enough to keep the lights on. So to suggest that publishers are the gatekeepers of content doesn’t hold water. The big question is, “Will it sell?”

There are as many topics of books as there are readers who will buy them, and I dismiss the notion that anyone consciously censors a subject. They have to consider whether the subject matter will end up in a lawsuit, or is so inflammatory that they’ll have to recall the book. But “gatekeep” reading material for kicks and giggles? Nope.

I’ve always compared this “publishers are gatekeepers” comment to sour grapes. Reminds me of the complaint that every editor has heard at least once in their career,  “You didn’t publish me because you’re against me.”

Perhaps it would be more illuminating if the author looked within. If you’re busy blaming the publishing industry for your lack of success, then you can become stuck in the excuse and stab about for an easy fix that may not be the best fit for you – ergo “They’re against me, so I’ll self-publish.” This is not an Us Against You business. It’s about carefully choosing the best option for your book and your personality.

Now, does that mean great books aren’t published and really crappy ones are? Sure.  But it comes down to a matter of taste. Look at 50 Shades. I’ve seen tons of people complain the whole series sucks stale Twinkie cream. If that’s so, then how do we explain its huge sales? Believe me, there is no conspiracy. There are simply far more writers than there are publishers, and publishers have the pick of the litter.

Being published by a traditional printing house has no correlation to value, truth, or facts – they keep us in the dark.

I’m not even sure what this means, and I would hand over my collection of bloody red pens if someone could provide proof of this. This eludes back to that grand publishing conspiracy, and that’s plain laughable. What Random House won’t publish, for whatever reason, may find a home at Sourcebooks. What doesn’t fit in at Sourcebooks may find a perfect home at Behler.

Publishing is about competition, and we’re all looking to make an impact in our little corner of the reading world, to touch lives, to make a difference, to entertain. This is a game of numbers.

I’ve had queries come to me that the big guys passed on because those particular books didn’t fit in with their lineup. They have far more mouths to feed than I do, and not all books are going to sell 50,000 units. Does that make them any less important? Not in my humble opinion. I can keep the rescue beagles in designer doggeh chewies with fewer sales because my needs aren’t as grand. That doesn’t mean I won’t pull out the stops to sell 50K units, but the reality is that the book simply isn’t a 50K selling book.

That’s the beauty of the independent trade publisher. They do well with fewer sales, which means more books are being published…not less. They can be more apt to take a chance on a dicey topic because a thousand sales is still a win in their column, whereas those sales would be dismal to a Big Gun.

Here’s Some Free Advice

The bestest gift to a writer can give herself is realizing publishing is a business, and she is a businesswoman. Successful business people don’t waste time playing the blame game. They look at their writing as a business. They don’t blame others as to why they aren’t succeeding, but rather, they attend to ways that will ensure their success.

Anyone can be a whine and give up to play the blame game. But where will that get you? Anyone can be mediocre. Is that what you aspire to?

The ones who succeed look in the mirror and ask, “Am I doing everything I can to enhance my changes for winning? If not, what more do I need to do? To learn?” This is far healthier than believing conspiracies lurk around every corner in an effort to shut you out.

How about your own career? What were some of the tricks you used to help your writing, your querying, your book, and your success?

6 Responses to Reasons to Self-Publish – Part III

  1. ericjbaker says:

    I suspect that a lot of people think achieving the level of “good” from a mechanics standpoint should be enough. That is, knowing how to write professional-grade compositions means we deserve to be published.

    It’s like professional sports. High schools are full of great athletes, but only so many will make it to the big leagues. I went to a big, sports-minded high school with many notable (on a high-school level) players. Guess what? No one from our football team or championship soccer team was ever heard from a again. The big, star, can’t miss, world-beater basketball player ended up as a bench warmer for 2 seasons in the NBA and was never heard from again. Sometimes good isn’t enough.

    Perhaps I am cynical, but the oft-repeated phrase, “If you work hard, you will succeed,” isn’t true. Only a small percentage of people who work hard will succeed, and they happen to be the ones in position to make that claim. No one interviews the 95% who fail.

    Obviously, you have to believe in yourself and you have to put in the effort if you hope to make it into print. But there are no conspiracies. If I were worth conspiring against, I’d be worth publishing.

    Really, I’m not this gloomy in person. At times.

  2. jwelling says:

    “Anyone can be mediocre. Is that what you aspire to?”

    Wonderful argument. Lovely. Write riveting prose and engaging dialogue. It all works out in the end.

  3. I agree with you to a point, Eric. Those who work hard don’t necessarily succeed, HOWEVER, if one doesn’t put in the effort, it’s guaranteed they won’t be successful. Perhaps the effort they put in with one book didn’t pay off, but it may lay the groundwork for the next.

    Maybe the bench-warmer on the NBA didn’t make it in basketball, but I’d be willing to bet that he didn’t take up residence under a freeway underpass. Hopefully, he took the success he had and parlayed that into some other occupation that granted him a different kind of success.

    There’s only one constant. Ya don’t try and work, ya don’t succeed.

  4. ericjbaker says:

    Indeed. That’s why I keep wearing out keyboards!

  5. I am 67, i have had a successful career and now I am turning some of that experience into fiction. I understand that publishing is a business and if I was in that business I doubt if I would publish me. I might die before the investment pays off, I might only write one book, I have a decent pension, so I may not be hungry as a writer. i can dream up a list as long as your arm (whoops, that’s a cliché). For me I think self publishing is a rational choice.

  6. Rod, I hope you have lots of fun with your new venture. And you’re right, self publishing may be the perfect thing for you. May you sell a ton!

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